We’re all tough guys/gals here, right? We work through achy joints and old injuries, we push ourselves past old limits, and when we get hurt, we push through that too. If you’re anything like me, you probably derive some level of pride from your ability to withstand punishment, your willingness to work through the hurt, to lean on discipline in times of weakness …

… and I’m going to level with you, it’s sort of a problem.

When I was young, injuries, even ones that threatened my future, were romantic inconveniences — an obstacle for me to overcome. After all, what’s a story without a challenge, right? But as I got older, the ways my body recovers from injury have changed. For some injuries, getting back to 100% is a biological impossibility (at least with current medical science), making injuries like my back and knees something different than a challenge I can simply move past. I’m going to have these problems for the rest of my life — that’s not an obstacle, that’s just who I am now.

Despite understanding and appreciating the ways injury can have reverberating repercussions throughout my remaining decades, I can’t help but approach self-care in much the same way I did as a young athlete that, by comparison, seemed to heal like Wolverine. I avoid the doctor by using bullshit excuses like, “I’ve done this all before, I already know what he’s going to say,” or, “there’s nothing he can do about this old injury anyway.” Mind you, I’m not without justification when it comes to not wanting to go to the doctor. I’ve had surgeries go wrong, I’ve had symptoms ignored, and I watched my father lose his grip on life (by way of serious stroke) when a surgeon made a simple mistake in what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure. Doctors make mistakes, get complacent, and sometimes just plain old suck but they’re also the only folks that can keep us in the fight sometimes.

Back in the days before I’d given up my cushy corporate corner office to pursue writing, my mother-in-law came down with something. She was a tough broad that owned her own business and spent fifteen hours a day on her feet, so when she felt what seemed like the flu coming on, she quietly assured herself that she’d work through it as she had before. With no health insurance, “ignore it until it goes away” is a pretty common medical approach.

After a few months of feeling under the weather, Jan began to believe she may have something worse than the flu. Maybe she’s contracted Lyme Disease or Mono, I recall her postulating. Then, one day, she simply collapsed in her front yard as she made her short walk to work.

She woke up in an ambulance. Soon thereafter we were given her prognosis: aggressive cancer had started in her lungs and had already spread throughout much of her body. Treatment wasn’t a practical option, so all there was left for Jan to do was sit and wait for death to claim her. We couldn’t afford a hospice nurse, so my wife left her job and moved six hours away to care for her mother until she passed. When it was over, Jan left us after only getting to spend a paltry 56 years on this earth. Of course, in that short time, she managed to leave one hell of an impression.